Index





Myron W. Krueger
by Andrew Hieronymi



Myron Krueger is an artist/technologist pioneer in Virtual Reality interactive systems. This essay will start with a short biography of the artist, followed by a description of other parallel research in the field of VR. I will then give an overview of Krueger’s major artworks, and finally analyze his contribution to the field of interactive art.

A lot of my material comes from his book Artificial Reality II, published in 1991. The source of the book is Krueger’s 1974 doctoral dissertation about defining human-machine interaction as an art form. It was published originally in 1983 as Artificial Reality. The book describes in detail Krueger’s interactive systems and the process he went trough to develop them as well as his thoughts on the merging of art and technology.


Background

Myron Krueger was born in 1942. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College NH, and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. He started working on human-computer interaction at the university of Wisconsin in the late 60s and early 70s. Krueger is best known for his work VIDEOPLACE, an artificial reality that can be experienced without wearing special goggles or gloves. In 1973 he coined the term Artificial Reality to describe not only his work but also the head-mounted, three-dimensional viewing technology that was being developed at the time. In 1990 he received the first Golden Nica for interactive computer art from Ars Electronica. In addition to his artwork, Krueger started a firm called Artificial Reality Corporation with which he does scientific visualization research for various industries. What makes his work so different from other Virtual Reality systems is that the user can experience an immersive environment without having to wear special gear.

Following are a few examples of Virtual Reality technologies developed concurrent to his own research and as described in his book:

The Grope System was developed by P.J.Kilpatrick in 1976 at the University of North Carolina. It consists of a radioscope manipulator connected to a simple graphic world and can be seen as the ancestor of the reality glove. If the user tries to pick up a graphic block, he will feel the weight of the block as he raises her hand.

In 1984, Michael McGreevy at NASA built a helmet that used two liquid-crystal displays to provide stereo images and a magnetic position and orientation sensor to determine where the user was looking. As the user turned his head, the magnetic sensor detected the movements and the computer displayed the appropriate view of a 3D world depicted with line graphics.

Jaron Lanier who founded VPL in the early 80s came up with the term Virtual Reality in 1989. His company VPL went beyond NASA’s demonstration by using Silicon Graphics workstations that simplified the display of 3D scenes in real time. Two people wearing goggles and reality gloves are able to interact with each other in a graphic world.


Description

GLOWFLOW is a computer art project Krueger developed in collaboration with Dan Sandlin, inventor of a video image processor; Jerry Erdman, a minimalist sculptor; and Richard Venezsky, a computer scientist. GLOWFLOW was exhibited at the Memorial Union Gallery at the University of Wisconsin in April 1969. It consisted of a computer-controlled lightsound environment that responded to people within it. In a dark empty room, four transparent tubes were attached to the gallery walls. The tubes had phosphorescent particles in water with each tube containing a different colored pigment. The room was completely dark, and the lighted tubes provided the only visual reference. They were arranged to distort the visitor’s perception as they caused the room to appear wider in the center than at each end. As the visitors walked down the length of the room they felt that they were going downhill with respect to their own position based on the direction of the tube.

METAPLAY was conceived and directed by Krueger in 1970. It is a radical departure from GLOWFLOW, as it integrated visual, sound and responsive techniques into a single framework. The computer was used to create a unique real-time relationship between the participants in the gallery and the artist in another room. Live video image of the participant and a computer graphic image drawn by the artist were superimposed on the video and rear projected in the gallery space. The viewer and the artist responded to what they saw on the screen. The interaction created interesting scenarios, where the artist would draw different objects the visitors would interact with. A shower, a door that would close or open when the visitor would touch it, a tic-tac-toe, etc... One of the most interesting interactions was creating a way for people in the environment to draw. When the visitor moved his hand, the artist would draw a line accordingly. By moving his hand, he could draw on the screen.

In the mid-70s, Krueger developed VIDEOPLACE, as a direct evolution from METAPLAY.

“The experience during METAPLAY had demonstrated that two people who saw their images juxtaposed would interact as though they were actually together. It also showed that people have a proprietary feeling about their image. What happens to it, happens to them. If two people are together, they can see, hear and touch each other. The ultimate consequence is an artificial reality experienced through the participation of one’s video image in the portrayed world.” (Krueger 1991, 37)

In VIDEOPLACE, the computer had control over the relationship between the visitor’s image and the objects in the graphic scene. It could coordinate the movement of a graphic object with the actions of the visitors.
In the installation, the visitor faces a video-projection screen. A screen behind him is backlit in order to produce a high contrast image for the camera and allow the computer to distinguish the visitor from the background.
The visitor’s image is then digitized to create a silhouette and processors can then analyze its posture and movement, and it’s relationship to other graphic elements in the system. The processors can then react to the movement of the visitor and create a series of reactions, either visual or auditory. Two or more environments can also be linked to the system.


Analysis

“I consider technology an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics and therefore as natural as the birds and the bees.” (Krueger 2002)

Towards the end of Artificial Reality, Krueger describes a number of possible uses for the VIDEOPLACE technology, beyond the art gallery installation environment.

“The combination of speech and gesture will be superior to the keyboard for word processing. To avoid disturbing other people in the office, we will lower our voices or even whisper.” (Krueger 1991, 171)

Word Processing: Moving a Block of Text was described by Krueger as a possible VIDEODESK application, although the idea of talking to a computer in an office environment does not seem very practical.

In 1975, Krueger proposed to the city of Madison, WI to install a large number of video cameras in a recently constructed shopping mall.

“Everybody could see what was happening at the mall on their home television. The idea was that the mall would be accessible at all times to everyone. In this way, the spontaneous events that occurred in the mall would be part of the fabric of the community.” (Krueger 1991, 233)

This idea of implementation of video cameras shows how naïve some of Krueger’s ideas are. He was probably not making a comment on the surveillance camera and did not foresee how eventually a similar setup would be implemented for very different purposes.

For Krueger, technology is like nature. He often seems to have an uncritical approach towards technology as he for example has no problem getting his projects funded by the Military. (VIDEODESK a variation of VIDEOPLACE was first the subject of a proposal to DARPA in 1982). Also, in his book, Krueger mentions a possible application of VIDEOPLACE for the Military, an artificial-reality version of the $6 million man, or Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.


Conclusions

In the end, Krueger’s most important contribution to the arts might be his pioneering experiments with interactive systems and installations, but not the content he imagined for them. His highly sophisticated interactive systems have inspired quite a few younger artists such as David Rokeby, Jeffrey Shaw and Paul Sermon among others.


References

Krueger, W. Myron. 1991. Artificial Reality II.
Reading: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.

Krueger, W. Myron. 1977. Responsive Environments.
Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Montfort, Nick. 2003. The New Media Reader.
Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Original Publication:
From AFIPS 46 National Computer Conference Proceedings, 423-33.
Montvale, N.J.: AFIPS Press, 1977

Turner, Jeremy. “Myron Krueger Live” Online posting.
23 Jan. 2002. Ctheory.net.
<http://www.ctheory.net/text_file?pick=328>

Vajpeyi, Praveen. “Myron Krueger”. Online posting.
<http://bubblegum.parsons.edu/~praveen/thesis/html/wk05_1.html>